Ebira people of Kogi State in Nigeria celebrating their annual street Carnival
Recent in depth research indicates that the Ebira have been part and parcel of what is now generally known as Central Nigeria since 4000 BC (Ohiare 1988). The Ebira zone is also prominent in the prehistoric civilization of the Iron Age generally characterised by the Central Nigeria as epitomised by Nok Culture. Even recently the iron-working site of Ife-Ijummu (Kogi State) has been dated to 260 B.C. Thus, it could be deduced that the Ebira as a group existed for a long time in locations within Central Nigeria not far from where they are located presently (Ohiare 1988, Willamson 1967, Beneth 1972).
Ebira woman in her traditional dress
Many Ebira people are from Kogi State, Kwara State, Nasarawa State, Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, and Edo State. Okene is said to be the administrative centre of the Ebira-speaking people in Kogi state.
The word “Ebira” refers to the people themselves, their language and their geographical location. Using the name of the most popular town of the land, we may refer to them as Ebira Okene. The Ebira Okene occupy the hilly stretch of land southwest of the Niger-Benue confluence area and share boundaries with the Yoruba-speaking people of Akoko, Owe and Ijumu to the west; the various Akoko-Edo people to the south and south west; the Hausa, Nupe and Ebira groups at Lokoja to the north; and the River Niger to the east. Nigerian Nollywood stars Mercy Johnson and Halima Abubakar are from Ebira tribe.
Pretty and talented Nollywood star and Ebira Okene girl, Mercy Johnson
Other Ebira groups are Ebira Igu in Kogi and Koton Karfi local government areas of Kogi state; Ebira Toto and Umaisha ofNassarawa (Toto) local government area of Nassarawa state; Ebira Mozum of Bassa local government area of Kogi state; and Ebira Etuno of Igarra District of Ako-Edo local government area of Edo state. Other Ebira are to be found in Abaji in the Federal Capital Territory and Agatu in Benue state.
His Royal Majesty, Alh. Ado Ibrahim, the Ohinoyi of Ebiraland sitting in state
The Ebira people are republican by nature, outspoken and very hard working. Farming and cloth-weaving are occupations for which the Ebiras are well known. The paramount ruler of the people is called Ohinoyi of Ebiraland. The Ebira cherish their traditional festivals in spite of the infiltration of some negative tendencies.
A common physical feature of Ebiraland is the conspicuous presence of blocks of dissected hills and the metaphoric rocks enveloping the greater part of the land. The hills rise to a peak of 2000 ft and probably represent the remnants of an old post of Gondowana pedi-plain (Clayton 1957). The African laterite and plain which embraces the greater part of Ihima, Okengwe and Ageva are occupied by extensive undulating plains (1200-1400ft). They are studded with smooth rounded rocks of in selbergs. The laterite soils are derived from metaphoric rocks of greyish-buff (18 inches) and clayed pan which overlay vascular iron stone (Omorua 1959:1). The depth of the soil is however variable, ranging from two to three feet to about three inches where the ironstone approaches the surface, as in the Itakpe hills in Adavi district.There is also the Niger literic plain forming a lower terrace below the higher plains. This is conspicuous in Ajaokuta, Eganyi, Ebiya and part of Adavi in the north and north-east of Ebiraland. Another very important feature is the rim from the highland. This enscarpement which extends to Ihima, Eika and part of Ajaokuta widens into abroad zone of dissected hills. The soil formation of the rims are mostly skeletal, consisting of pale brown and orange brown sands and grits. The enscarpment contains quartz stones interspersed with pockets of deeper sand wash (Omorua 1959:1-2).The implications of these features to the past and contemporary history of the land are many. A few of them are as follows. The nature of the topography has affected the relief pattern of Ebiraland,which is marked out of the dissected peaks with knife-edged ridges,and steep V-shaped valleys. Valleys of this type occur in Okene,Okengwe and Eika towns. Apart from exerting much influence on the climate, the features in part provided security and protection for the ancient Ebira. Thus they resisted external incursions into their geo-polity as in the case of the Ajinomoh jihadist wars in the 1880s discussed elsewhere (Okene 1990:26-30). Furthermore, the features influenced the pattern of the people’s technical know-how as it relates to the production of crafts like pottery, dyeing and blacksmithing and of the people instruments of production or destruction such as hoes, cutlasses and spears and bows and arrows.The Ebira were famous in Central Nigeria for the production of these crafts (Barth 1990:510-515; Jones 1969:38). In contemporary times, these features serve as a reservoir of the iron-ore deposit now discovered in large quantity in some hills of the land. Itakpe hill inAdavi district alone has an iron-ore deposit estimated between 37 and 47 million tons, and of more than 60 per cent iron content (Okene 1995:37). This is meant to provide raw material for the Ajaokuta Iron and Steel Industry set up by the Federal Government of Nigeria.Other minerals to be found in substantial commercial quantities in Ebira include marble, limestone, copper, chalk and mica.
Ebira people speaks Ebira (Egbira), a Nupoid language belonging to the larger Niger-Congo language phylum. Ebira is spoken by about 2 million people in Nigeria especially in Kogi State.
According to Greenberg’s classification of African languages, Ebira belongs to the Kwa group of the Niger-Congo family, which also comprises the Nupe, Gbari and Gade (Greenberg, 1966). But Hoffman and Bendor-Samuel in their studies of Nigerian languages set up Ebira as a separate entity (Adive 1985:56-57).
Nollywood Actress, Halima Abubakar is of Ebira ethnicity
There are two schools of thought about the Ebira origins. The written source (archeological) and the oral traditions. The Ebira, through oral tradition, trace their descent to Wukari (in the present Taraba state) where they were a constituent part of the Kwararafa confederation. In about 1680 AD, they (along with the Idoma and Igala) migrated out of Wukari a chieftaincy dispute. The Ebira later split into various groups and settled in different locations between 1680 and 1750 AD. The Ebira Tao first sojourned with the Igalas at Idah but later crossed the River Niger and settled at Ebira Opete located the vicinity of Upake in Ajaokuta LGA. The 'father' of the Ebira Tao who led them to this premier settlement in Ebiraland was Itaazi. Itaazi had five (5) sons who all later migrated from Ebira Opete and were the founders of the various districts in Ebiraland. The children and the districts they founded are Adaviruku/Ohizi (Adavi), Ododo (Okehi), Obaji (Eyika), Uga (Okengwe) and Ochuga/Onotu (Ihima). His daughter named Ohunene settled in Eganyi district. Members of the various clans in Ebiraland are descendants of the children of Itaazi. Ohizi had five children who are progenitors of the five traditional Adavi clans named after them. These are upopo-uvete (Apasi), Uka, Idu (Aniku), Adeyika and Uhwami. A migrant group from Eganyi known as Ezi-Onogu clan is also found in Adavi. The sons of Ododo who are the ancestors of Okehi clans were Okovi Oviri and Enwgukonyai. Obaji the founder of Eika had ten children named Ohiaga, Iyewe, Avassa, Ehemi, Anchi, Epoto, Egiri, Ubobo, Ogu and Eyire. Uga of Okengwe had two sons whose children constitute the present Okovi and Agada group of clans. Due to a sizeable concentration of other Ebira clans in Okengwe district, they formed a socio-political coalition known as Ada-ehi. Ochuga had six children and their descendants make up the six clans in Ihima. These are Emani, Oha/Idu, Ohueta, Ure, Ohongwa and Odumi. The seventh clan is Akuta who migrated from Okengwe. Though Itaazi's daughter named Ohunene was the founder of Eganyi, not all the clans there are descended from her. Eganyi clans are Ede, Esugu, Eheda, Ogu, Onoko, Idu, Anavapa and Ogodo. The Aningere who are skilled craftsmen are found in all districts. They are, however, more concentrated in Okengwe and Adavi districts.
Ebira man playing traditional drums
From the written source, Ohiare (1985) linguistically defined Ebira as those who speak the language or dialect called Ebira or those who recognize themselves as one but have lost touch of the ability to speak the language as a result of some historical development. Describing their location, Ozigi (2004) said that Ebira are predominantly in the Niger–Benue confluence area and scattered in locations as Okene, Okehi, Adavi and Ajaokuta. These are the Ebira Tao group of the central senatorial District of Kogi State.
There are also the Ebira kotos. They are found in Koton Karfe area of Kogi Local Government of
Kogi State. There is the Ebira Mozum of Bassa Local Government area of Kogi State.
There are large Ebira settlement in other areas apart from Kogi State as found in Umaisha, Toto,
Lafia District of Nassarawa State and Federal Capital Territory. There is also Ebira Agatu in Benue
State, Ebira Etuno in Igarra area of Edo State.
The concern of this paper is the Ebira Tao group. Historically, the people belong to the Kwararafa or
Apa group of the middle belt region. Among the other ethnic group in the Kwararafa region are the
Jukun, the Igala, the Idoma, the Langtang, Kaje etc.
The tradition of origin of the Ebira Tao first started in the Gongola Basin and ended with their
migration to the lower Benue valley.
The Ebira took their name from the lower Benue valley. They described themselves as people from
Ebira. Tradition collected from among the Idoma say Ebira were already in the area of Abinse down
to the area of modern Agatu district when Idoma ancestors met them. This was about the 15th and
16th centuries as claimed by Ohiare (1985). This indicated that the Ebira presence around the Benue
valley was about the 14th Century.
It was from here that the wave of migration dispersed the Ebira and other associated groups to the
confluence area. From here also the people migrated to Ebira opete and the Okehi hills.
Several reasons were given for this migration. They were succession disputes, outbreak of epidemics,
and flight from punishment which the people considered as unjustified and oppressive.
There is yet another period of Ebira historical development. This began with their migration across
the Niger at Itobe to the right bank of the Niger around the present location of Ajoakuta. This place
was known as Ebira opete.
Ebira man from Kogi state
The Ebira had to move further from the Igala territory for obvious reasons of succession. It was a
common practice in the royal circle of Idah that the losing side in succession dispute was always
obliged by tradition to move out of the capital enmasse to the inland and sometime beyond the
boundaries of the Kingdom (in this case, the Ebira belonged to the losing side and so had to move).
According to Ozigi (2004) the dominant theme in the struggle of the Ebira opete settlers was to
secure political independence of Attah in Idah. So, it was their desire to be rid of Idah’s political
influence. This forced the people to begin gradual westward. Some settled in Okehi and Upai hills
and others in Egarra (Etuno) area. From Opete the Ebira moved gradually in families, lineages and
clans to the hills of Okehi, Upai and Eikaoku, a compact area chosen for security purposes.
Political organization of the people in their new area reflected the settlement patterns based on
family lineage and clan group conducted its affairs as a semi autonomous entity. In each clan group,
lineages often acted independently. The leaders of these clan groups never failed to strengthen their
political authority through religious sanctions ordained by the ancestors. Institutions of ancestral
cults featured spirits like “Eku oba”, “Eku echichi”, akatapa’, and “Eku irahu”, that gave political
potency to their religious sanctions.
By mid 19th century, the Ebira had settled permanently in their present locations and lived in the
district founded by the ancestors. Various settlements were founded by the Ebira children like Okovi,
Agada, Eika, Adavi, Ihima and Eganyi. These settlements were named after them.
The main clans and sub clans in Ebira settlements were as follows:
Okovi (Asuwe, Adobe, Ehebe, Omavi, Ure and Omoye as sub clans)
Agada (Akuta, Avi, Ogu, Esusu, and Ohimoroko as sub clans)
Eika (Ihiaga, Iyewe, Avasa, Eyire, Epoto, Anchi, Iheme, Agiri, Ubobo, Uhuodo and Ogu as
Adavi (Aniku, Uhami, Uka, Upopo uvete as sub clans)
Ihima (Emani, Ure, Ohueta, Odumi, Ohionwa and oha as sub clans)
Eganyi (Eheda, Onoko, Esugu, Ogodo, Onogu, Ede and Ogu as sub clans)
These clans were very important in the socio–political life of the Ebira people. They were the basis
of authority and social relations in Ebira traditional community.
Ebiraland Royal Palace
By the mid 19th century, about the 1860’s the Jihadists invaded the Ebira settlement and distorted
their socio–political organization. The Jihadists, under the leadership of Madaba from Bida, first
incursed into the Okene area by way of raiding. For the first time, the Ebira were faced with
formidable and a united force under a purposeful and dynamic leadership that could challenge these
Jihadists. These leadership traits were found in Ohindase Ukpai and he did put very strong resistance
in this direction.
In the second incursion, which came about the 1870’s, was a combined force of Bida, Ilorin and
Ibadan under Nupe leadership. With a determined and united Ebira under the Leadership of
Ohindase Avogude, the Ebira resisted once again. It is quite impressive to note that of these
Jihadists’ incursions in Ebira was successful. It is also noteworthy that these incursions had set the
people on the way to central Leadership.
Under colonial rule, the people of Ebira lost their sovereign right. The existing structures were
dismantled and replaced with new ones. There was imposition of colonial agents through whom the
colonialist communicated with the people. There was the imposition of poll tax (Ekehi irehi or house
money), there was forced labour to construct rail lines, road network, etc.
The people resisted patriotically colonial imposition in various ways. Ibrahim (1985) identified that
there were military resistance against the colonialists in such places like Ikuehi, Kuroko and Okene.
These various oppositions to colonial imposition led to the Oyibo Arimo crisis of 1924 and 1926. It
was these series of crisis that culminated into the formation of Igbira Tribal Union (ITU) that
constituted a major political force in the post independent era.
When the British invaded and conquered Ebiraland at the beginning of the century. The people found
a confederation of five-clan groups (they are Eika, Okehi, Adavi, Okengwe, and Ihima) each
operating a devine form of government as established by Ododo of Okehi and Obaji of Eika (the two
greatest heroes of Ebiraland).
Ebira girl, Mercy Johnson
Following a breakdown of traditional law and order as a result of wars, migration, famine etc the two
heroes enthroned cult of eldership, resuscitated the masquerade cult and established iragba and the
masquerade as the institution of government and instrument of discipline respectively. Ododo and
Obaji also established a devine form of chieftaincy. The installation of the Chief priest was linked
with the Iragba and the priest elect would pass through a ceremony of death and masquerades and
was finally installed by the Ekuoba.
Each clan group in Ebiarland was politically autonomous with its clan’s chief priest rotating among
the clans in order of seniority. This was the situation until the invasion of the Ajinomoh in the
second half of the 19th century. As from 1900 the British took over Ebiraland, created Kabba
Division and appointed Owudah Adidi as agent in 1902 Omadivi took refuge in the house of
Owudah Adidi at Obangede. Omadivi was a widely traveled man. He appreciated the white man’s
power and motive for invading Ebiraland. He quickly allied with them. Omadivi had wielded much
power around himself and events worked in his favour when in 1904 he was installed the chief of
Ebiraland after the Major Marsh expedition which sacked Okene.
In 1917, Omadivi died as the District Head of Ebiraland and the stage was set for the struggle for his
position. Among the contenders for this position were Ohindase Arudi Adano, Ibrahim Chogudo
Onoruoiza and Ozigizigi of Obehira.
Ibrahim Onoruoiza won the contest at the youthful age of 17 amidst bitter opposition. The credentials
that won him this position included high level of intelligence, brilliant and efficient performance as
white man’s tax assessment scribe and messenger. Ibrahim immediately commenced his activities to
open up roads to Ajaokuta and Lokoja for trading activities. Fascinated by the work of Ibrahim, the
British Resident officer, Mr Byng-Hall created Ebira Division with the Attah as the Sole Native
Ebira woman from Kogi State
The nature of the physical environment influenced not only the land tenure system but also agriculture practices which in fact were the main determinant of the people’s economy. Agricultural production was geared towards both domestic consumption and exchange.Almost every household, which was the basic unit of production, wasinvolved in farming. Over time the people, through production efficiency, division of labour and specialization, took advantage of both internal and external economies of scale. By early 19th century,realising its potentialities, the Okengwe district specialised in the production of beniseed which it traded and exchanged with the groundnuts in the production of which Adavi clan-groups and communities in the immediate north of the land had also become specialised (Okene 1995:79-84). Apart from fishing and hunting, which complemented farming, the Ebira economy also to some extent depended on local industries and craft production like palm oil, animal husbandry, iron technology and blacksmithing, textiles dyeing, wood carving and basket, mat and raffia weaving. Because of its unique nature, the textiles industry requires a brief discussion. Cotton, the main raw material of the industry, is a crop of antiquity with the Ebira. The Ebira had migrated with the crop and with the knowledge of its production to their present location, the soil of which was fortunately very favourable for its commercial cultivation. An exclusively female preserve, the distinct technique employed by the Ebira textiles producers was vertically mounted single loom system, locally called
According toBrown, Ralph Willis, Picton and Mack, (Brown 1970:60; Willis 1972:51; Picton & Mack 1979:17,77,80,82)the Ebira cloth weaving had undergone series of styles, patterning and specailization that made it excellent and one of the best in the Western Sudan before the advent of the British rule. In the same vein, Henry Barth noted in 1851 that Ebira Woven cloth favourably rivaled those of other areas in terms of pattern, colour, decoration and texture. Barth did observe the superiority of the Ebira Woven cloth compare to other regions in the Kurmi International Market, Kano when he visited the City during the same period (Barth 1990:511)
Ebira women in Okunchi, West Nigeria, weave on upright looms.
Generally speaking, the settlement pattern of the Ebira in their present location was largely determined by the topography of the area and their migrational groupings. They settled in highly knitted related families, kindreds, clans and clan-groups on several hills tops which include Eikoku Okengwe, Okehi, Ukpai and Okerekere. The socio-political institutions which became consolidated over time were primarily geared towards the maintenance of discipline, social harmony and peace which were essential ingredients for social relations and economic progress within and without Ebira ecological zone.
The basis of political organisations of the Ebira started from the family. As the smallest unit, the family consisted of the father, wives,children and grand children. The unit lives in a specially designed Ohuoje
His Royal Majesty, Alh. Ado Ibrahim, the Ohinoyi of Ebiraland,
(compound), while the Ovovu (outer compound), was the exclusive use of other people under the custody of the family. These include the family slaves, war or famine refugees on asylum and family labourers. The oldest surviving male was the head of the family. He personified the cultural, clannish and economic heritages as the respresentative of the ancestors in the family.Several families who believed they were patrilineally related by blood formed the next political unit of lineage, abara. The head was the oldest surviving male of the lineage. Though, his decision was not final as he had to consult with the heads of the families that made up the lineage, the chief had prerogative power over the economic activities of the lineage. The lineage land and relics were vested on him and the sylvan produce of the lineage were gathered in his palace annually for distribution to the various member families based on the ancestral law of age grade. Several lineages have survived to the present. These include Etumi, Avi, Adovosi, Egiri and Ogagu.The clan was the next political unit of the Ebira of this study. Though third in the strata, the clan was the main and most sensitive of all the political units. Each clan had both a prefix in its name of either Ozi- (i.e. children of) or Ani- (i.e the people of) and a totemic symbol indicating either a sacred object or an animal attached to their clan name. For example, Eziehimozoko, a clan in Okengwe district had an additional eulogy of eziede, “ children of crayfish”, attached to their clan name. In the past, a clan name and a totemic eulogy served as identification marks for the various migrational groups or parties. The head of each of the clans, many of which have also survived to the present, was the oldest surviving male. His power was nominal, as he administered through consultation. Nevertheless, he was the representative of the ancestors in the clan. He therefore executed sanctions and controls over its members. These were thought to emanate from the ancestors who watched over the affairs of the people from the world of the ancestral spirits.
The largest socio-political unit among the Ebira was the clan-group locally called Ekura. About six of such clan-groups survive to the present. They are Okengwe, Okehi, Adavi, Eika, Ihima, and Eganyi. Though each was self autonomous, they however related on issues of common concern. The head of each was priest-chief, Ohinoyi-ete.
Each group was made up of several clans believed they had distant patrilineal blood tie. For instance, the Okengwe group comprised of Akuta, Ehimozoko, Avi, Esusu, Ogu, Asuwe, Omoye, Omavi, Eire and Adobe. The chief-priest consulted the heads of the clans on any serious matter affecting the group. In addition, he administered justice in conjunction with his deputy, Ohireba, and the council of elders of the group.Despite the obvious limitation to his authority, the priest-chief was the highest spiritual and socio-political head of the clan-group. He was believed to have a daily communication with the ancestors. He ministered to, and indeed mustered the earth shrine to solicit for fertility, adequate rainfall and good harvest. He exercised sanctions and ensure control, discipline, and compliance with the societal norms and rules. He was vested with the interpretation of the ancient ancestral laws through divination, sacrifices and indeed long experience. Through these, the six priest-chiefs in close cooperation,consultation and communion with one another were able to administer justice and maintain the society of Ebira in relative social harmony up till the eve of the British invasion in 1903.
Traditional Marriage in Ebira(Igbirra) Land
The word Ebira means behaviour when translated literally with ethics and hospitality as compliments. The unique features of the Ebira culture with its ethnic aestheticism, are appreciated most in the event of traditional marriages.
When a man sees a lady he intends to marry, he discusses his intentions with her, who, if interested, tells him to bring his people to express his intentions to her parents.
Ebira groom with his bride and friends
In respect to the Ebira tradition, the man does not walk to the parents of the woman to disclose his intentions; his parents or elders mostly the women do this by going to the lady’s parents to introduce themselves and also to inform them of their reason for coming to the house.
After this is done, the parents of the lady then conduct a thorough investigation on the upbringing, background, family history and so on, of the intending groom to unravel any history of madness, terminal diseases or criminality in the man’s family. This is with a view to deciding whether or not to give their daughter’s hand in marriage to a family with a tainted reputation in the society.
After the research, if their findings are appreciable, an approval is given to the man to visit the bride-to- be from time to time to further get to know themselves properly.
Ebira bride and the groom
A date is later picked for the formal introduction of both families and this is called “Ise Ewere” which literally means what has been in secret is now in the open. During the celebration, there is usually the presentation of gift items made by the family of the groom to the family of the bride.
The gift items usually include; about 42 tubers of yam, dried fish or bush meat, 10 liters of palm oil, a bag of salt, assorted wines and kola nut. The groom may also decide to present two wrappers to his would-be bride but this is optional.
On the day of introduction, it is not necessary that the man attends the occasion as his family members do the necessary things on his behalf. The bride’s family in turn, entertains the groom’s with food and drinks. The families interact with one another and formally introduce every member of both families.
After this is done, the date for traditional marriage is then fixed. The tubers of yam and other items brought are distributed to neighbours and members of the extended family no matter how small. Much significance is given to this to ask for their prayers for a happy marriage as well as to ensure the acknowledgement of the community that the lady now has someone she intends to get married to.
The amount to be collected as bride price is also agreed upon by the parents of the bride and it depends to a large extent, on the financial strength of the man. Apart from the bride price, there are other things like “ozemeiyi” that is “I am attracted to her” which a certain amount of money is attached to, and “otanuvogei” that is “joining hands together”. There is also “idoza” that is “farming price” paid to the bride’s family because Ebira people are predominantly farmers. In the olden days when every young man had to farm, the groom and his friends appoint a day to farm for the father of the bride but these days because most young men don’t farm any longer, they pay money instead.
On the day of the traditional marriage, women in the man’s family are seen singing and dancing carrying tubers of yams on their heads to the lady’s house. The singing and dancing continues at their arrival at the lady’s house where the ceremony kicks off. Other items to be taken are cans of palm oil, groundnut oil, dried fish, some clothing materials in some boxes, jewelries and other things for adornment of the lady.
The ceremony is usually colorful with display of dances by maiden groups mostly the bride’s friends and by women groups. A religious leader and the parents of the couple offer prayers for them to bless their marriage and a certificate is thereafter given to the couple by the religious leader to acknowledge their marriage.
The lady is thereafter, escorted by her friends and other women to her husband’s house with her belongings.
Ebira acknowledge the existence of God with utmost reverence. The innate belief of the people places Him, "Ohomorihi" (Supreme Being), first before any other thing. These claim clearly manifest in the various attributes accorded Supreme God by the people. Ohomorihi means creator of rain. In most cultures and even sciences, the essence of living and life is tied to water. Earthly fertility is predicated on water, human conception and delivery is also located in watery substances. All source of life can be traced to water.
In Ebira religious belief, Ohomorihi is the source and controller of this water from which all these beings are sourced because Orihi is rain and is produced from the divine center (Ohomo). This belief establish the absolute supremacy of God Almighty over all living and non-living beings, materials and spiritual matters.
Other names and attributes of Ohomorihi includes "adayi ebeba anayin abayi" (Our father above who owns us all), "Ikoko koi koi" (The powerful, the Omnipotent), "Ovaraka dosi" (of limitless size, the magnificent with unimaginable magnitude, the Omnipresent), "Ochiji mokariye" (the silent arbiter, unpredictable dispenser of justice), "Ovaraka huduma" (whose stair roars like thunder), "Oku`za ohuru, Oku`za atito" (adorns one with gunpowder and soil with ashes), "Ogodo godo onuva`za eme tu" (so far removed from physical touch), "Odu ajini osi ihuo teyi" (inflict pains today and inject gains tomorrow, create sorrow today and restore joy tomorrow); oda yoza ri odoza here (feeds you and drains you). from these names one can understand why He is the first point of reference in all matters- secular, spiritual or ritual.
The high-powered Turbaning Ceremony of Alhaji Muhammed Ataba Sanni Omolori as Ciroman Ebira
Ebira people know that man sins and therefore cannot reach God (Ohomorihi) direct so they play through Ete (Mother Earth). deities or lesser gods known as Ori and Ohiku (ancestors).
Ete occupies a vital position in Ebira cosmology. It is a force of balance considered next to God (Ohomorihi) because whatever goes up must come down to earth. It is on earth that human`s life is both sustained and buried, "a spiritual entity from which all life derives," (Aniako 1980, p. 35-36), Thus, when a child at play eats sand, as it is often the case in African traditional settings, it is seen as the ritual process of reconnecting back to earth, first initiated through the burial of the placenta of the child at birth. man lives through cultivation of food crops and exploitation of crust of ornamental riches buried in within the earth. It also serves as man`s final resting place at death. Ete thus has dual essence of fortune and misfortune commission and reversion. Ete is also a force of equipoise between man and Ebira cosmology which is concretized by the balance between mother Earth and patriarchal dominance of man even in ancestral world. Women (Mother earth) are alternative force that checks the excesses of man evil tendencies. The overriding importance of Ete as the centre of universe is physically expressed at the centre of every traditional Ebira home as Eteohuje (centre of the compound). It is at this centre the that ancestral sacrifice and rituals are held.
God created Ori ( spirit being or nature spirit) as the intercessor between man and Himself. Ori is actually worshipped and celebrated in two towns of Ihima and Eganyi in Ebiraland probably because of its intervention to avert serious calamities in these two towns according to Ebira mythology. It came to cleanse these two towns of serious epidermic. As such, it assumes prominence with shrines created for it with its attendant devotees echeori annual festival instituted inmemory of this ritual cleansing. Echeori is celebrated as a New Yam Festival for seasonal renewal. Okino (2004, p 9) claims that the "pioneer religion of the ancestors of Ebira people is Ori" probably because of its intercessory nature between the people and the higher order.
The other spirit that Ebira people relates to is the Ancestral Spirit (Eku), an embodiment of dead ancestors, ohiku.
His Royal Majesty, Alh. Ado Ibrahim, the Ohinoyi of Ebiraland and some elders
Cultural Festivals (Eche-Ozi Ete)
The Ebiras have several annual cultural festivals. Three of the most prominent ones are 'Echane', 'Eche Ori' and 'Ekuechi'.
This is an annual masquerade festival celebrated in rotation from one district to the other in Ebiraland (between April–June). In the past, it was only during the period of the festival that betrothed girls were given away in marriage to their suitors. That is why the festival is called 'Eche-ane' (women festival). Masquerades, though carried long canes, came out primarily to entertain people and received gifts in return. It is regrettable that this very popular and interesting festival has been bastardized and now a source of constant breach of peace.
'Eche Ori' is a new yam festival celebrated only in two districts in Ebiraland. These are Ihima and Eganyi. During the festival, traditional worshippers make sacrifices in the secret groove of 'Ori' (deity) high up in the mountain to show gratitude for its protection and provision of bounteous harvest. The worshipers carry long canes with which they whip one another in turns without anyone exhibiting any sign of pain. This is a mark of strength or manhood. Another important attraction of the festival is the delightful 'Echori' music in which female singers feature prominently. Only after this festival can one eat or sell new yams in the market as it is a taboo to do so before the festival in Ihima and Eganyi.
Ekuechi (traditional masquerade)
This is a night masquerade festival which marks the end of the Ebira calendar year and the beginning of a new one. Ododo is popularly acclaimed to be the initiator of this masquerade festival. The 'Akatapa' masquerade in heralding the beginning of the festival often say "Irayi ododo osi gu, Irayi akatapa osi gu eeeh! Osa yeeeh!" which means "the year of the Ododo has ended; the year of Akatapa has ended. Here is another year". The festival begins with a festival eve in which folk singers (ome ikede) perform to the delight of both men and women. The following day, the real festival in which masquerades sing and dance to entertain people from dusk to dawn takes place. It is restricted to men only so all women stay indoors throughout the duration of the festival. All dead relatives are believed to return to an earth on a visit this night, so, women prepare delicious 'Apapa' (bean read) and he-goat meat for the visitors. The women also, at times, leave monetary gifts with the men for the visiting dead relatives. Trust men, the meals and gifts are properly and neatly delivered to the beneficiaries who only the men have the privilege of seeing and interacting with, that night
Ebira girl and Nollywood actress, Halima Abubakar
Women as Iconic Paradox
The Ebira-Ekuechi Facekuerade
Sunday Enessi Ododo, PhD
Department of the Performing Arts
University of Ilorin
Ebiraland occupies a hilly sketch of guinea savannah grassland approximating 2,977 square kilometres. The land lies approximately between 60 and 80 north of latitude and between 60 and 100 east longitude in the south-west zone of the Niger-Benue confluence area with a very pleasant climate
(Mohammed 1). To the west and north-west, it shares common boundaries with the Yoruba speaking people of Owe, Akoko, Ijumu and Oworo; to the south and south-west, it is bounded by Ogori, Ososo and other Akoko-Edo settlements; the Hausa, Nupe and Ebira groups at Lokoja are bounded to the north and the River Niger to the east. To be found across the River are the Igala and Bassa Nge. The word Ebira refers to the people themselves (or could be called Anebira), their language, their character and their geo-political location (et’Ebira or et’Anebira), when considered etymologically. Beyond these,
The land is, however, more than a matter of
territory: it is also a metaphysical or mystical
entity capable of having an effect on people’s
lives and receiving sacrifice. The land is, one might
say, a force to be reckoned with. (Picton 68)
Ekuechi festival of the Ebira Tao of Kogi State in Nigeria is anchored on ancestral celebration and interaction. The performance process entails the celebration of myth, legend and traditional social events. It is observed annually by the people to mark the end of the year and usher in a new one. It is a two-day/night affair with a preceding eve (Unehe) which usually starts in late November, runs through December and ends in early January with each Ebira community choosing its own date as affirmed by the priest of Ireba Eku (masquerade cult) shrine, the Ozumi especially.
Ekuechi performance is a men-dominated event from which women are forbidden to watch or participate, but have covert roles that are tangential to the festive essence of ekuechi. Their overt exclusion is essentially to prevent them from apprehending maskless masquerades in their ancestral
manifestations. It is around this masklessness of masquerades that Ododo (2004) conceptualises the facekuearde notion. This paper therefore interrogates the origin story of Ekuechi and the vital space women occupy in it as well as their iconic essence in the performance design of the festival. This effort is essentially to contribute to the contemporary discussion on women and gender ambiguity from the perspective of the Ebira. But first, let us position the Facekuerade notion
Across cultures in Nigeria evidence abounds of masquerades that do not don masks but are expressly called masquerades. Some examples can be found in Yorubaland, such as the Oloolu of Ibadan and Jenju of Abeokuta. Others that exist in Yorubaspeaking areas of Nigeria include Okelekele masquerade of Ekinrin-Ade in Kogi State; Melemuku masquerade of Oyo town, Atupa of Ilora, both of Oyo state; Olukotun masquerade of Ede, Komenle of Agba and Akereburu of Owu all in Osun state.
Reacting to the Ebira maskles stock, Husaini (148) actually questions the application of the word masquerade “since not all masqueraders use masks.” Beyond raising a nomenclatural problem, an investigation of the context and content of their performance realisation could lead to some interesting
revelations, just as it is intriguing that masquerade can be conceived without a mask; a fundamental feature of the masquerade art. Ekuechi festival is our reference point of discourse is this essay.
The star masquerade performer at Ekuechi festival, Eku’rahu (Night Singing Masquerade), does not wear mask as well as Akatapa (Jester) and Eku’ahete (feet stamping Masquerade) do not wear masks. The Eku’echichi (Rubbish Heap Masquerade)and Eku’Okise (Soothsaying Masquerade) that perform during the day fully masked in Echane festival also participate in Ekuechi maskless. The absence of masks notwithstanding, they are all still referred to as masquerades. Adinoyi–Ojo (89) submits that “the night has masked them from women and children to whom eku is supposed to be a mystery”.
From all the foregoing, it can be conjectured that the concepts of mask in masquerading art transcends the physical object of concealment. Night (darkness), voice disguise, pseudonyms and fear have become potent masking factors that sometimes de-emphasise the use of proper masks, the root word for masquerades. The mysticism that surrounds the masquerading art reinforces the image of a masquerade character without a mask. It is for these reasons; we believe that the use of the term masquerade for a performer without a mask has to be revisited. This is precisely what has informed
our own term and concept of ‘Facekuerade’. The words Face, Masquerade and Ekuechi, all contribute to the formation of the Face – Eku – rade. The organising key of the new word is Eku which accounts for why the word is not spelt as Facequerade.
Facekuerade therefore refers to a performance masquerade character without mask. Even though his audience encounters him face to face, the spiritual essence of the masquerade character is not devalued. He is still revered and held in high esteem. Facekuerade is an engaging metaphor in action capable of transforming events, performance realities and even mediates between structures of social systems.
Within the framework of Ekuechi ‘masquerade’ ensemble, all the participating ‘masquerade’ characters without masks essentially project the facekuerade essence. The awe and mysticism that surrounds these unmasked beings as masquerades are the disguising elements of the piercing sound
of izeyin and ireha, guttural voice, tongue-twisted renditions, esoteric chants and weird sounds verbally produced by Agadagidi (stick–carrying masquerade) and some participantaudience.
All these elements help to heighten the masking reality of the facekuerade characters. Eku’rahu, being the star actor of the Ekuechi event, forms the epicentre of the facekuerade concept. Eku’rahu is a composite actor who wears ancestral face; speaks, sings, dances and acts in that spirit. The respect that the custodian of Eku’rahu attracts also signifies that his character as Eku’rahu is taken far beyond his real self. Because of the ancestral connotations, his utterances during the Ekuechi event are taken seriously.
It is therefore useful that masquerade characters can transform into facekuerade characters because of the general caution people now take in approaching whatever they do, knowing that the ancestors have human agencies that can chastise them for their iniquities during Ekuechi performance. It is in this sense that the Ekuechi Festival has been perceived as facekuerade performance.
Origin Traditions of Ekuechi
Generally in Africa, theories of autochthonous origins for masquerades are often propounded through oral traditions as Horton (1963), Adedeji (1969) and Njaka (1974) demonstrated in recording the myths that established the origin of masquerades in Kalabari, Yoruba and Igbo cultures in Nigeria
respectively. The Ebira example is not too different.
There are few accounts of how Eku concept started. However, the differences in these accounts are not fundamental. Generally, Ireba Eku (masquerade cult) was believed to have been formed under the divine instruction of God to check the excesses of women, apart from serving as a medium of ancestral contact. Myth has it that after creating man and woman as husband and wife, one day God sent for the man but he was too busy to honour the call. Instead, he requested his wife to heed God’s call on his behalf. God gave her Irakwo (an egg-like object that contains the secrets of life and has the capacity to manifest supernatural powers) for her husband.
Having discovered its contents and being fascinated by them, she hid it in her uterus and later swallowed it without giving it to her husband. She thereafter became quite powerful, performing supernatural feats like turning into any animal and changing back to a human being. She could instantly grow wings to fly around in astral travels, and also capable of all sorts of mysterious transformations. Her husband became envious of her powers. In sympathy, God enabled the husband
to create the Eku masquerade cult from which women membership is strongly discouraged, as a counterforce to the powers the women possess.4 Corroborating the notion of Eku as a counterforce to witchcraft, the Adeika of Eika, the traditional Chief of Eika clan in Ebiraland in an interview recorded by Adeiza submits that:
"Eika is the senior clan in Ebiraland and Ekuechi
originated from them. The real origin of the
festival is a traditional secret and I wonder
whether I should reveal it. Well, well, I will…
Ekuechi originated from necessity, for when
witchcraft crept into Ebiraland it was the women
who reigned supreme in the cruel craft and they
cheated us men by it. Many people were being
killed by them especially men. In retaliation, we
men also set up the Eku cult to dread the women.
Women are made to believe that Ekus who
perform during Ekuechi are ancestor spirits raised
from the dead to come and admonish, warn and
punish evildoers in their songs and ritual. (cf
Ibrahim (12) further corroborates this position by revealing that “the masquerade executed recalcitrant women (witches)”. This is one of the major reasons women’s participation in the
night performance of Eku’rahu is highly forbidden. According to Ogunba (24):
In many African cultures women are not admitted
into the secrets of the masking art; indeed, they
are often the favourite target of masking and
satirical ridicule, the assumption being that they
live a more poetical life than their menfolk, have
secret powers, are more of spirits than human
beings, and therefore an object of fear or
A more encompassing conceptual thought on this phenomenon of female exclusion from masquerade cults within the African patriarchal context resides in the understanding that women are feeble-minded and cannot keep secrets. Also, because
"They are also mysterious and sometimes unclean.
They cannot therefore approach these ancestral
manifestations, whose character is diametrically
opposed to their own. Any meeting between
them would have adverse effects on both parties.
Much harm would come to the women and
masquerades would lose something of their
virtue. (Nzekwu 132)
Women’s association with witchcraft, misfortune, pollution and impurity is not peculiar to the Ebira alone. In South Africa for instance, a Bantu group called the Ba-Rongas subject their widows to a series of intensive purification rites to “throw away the malediction of death” (Juniod, 1962). The Ode-lay masked performers of Freetown in Sierra Leone “protect the maskers from witches” by dusting their costumes with special medicinal substance (Nunley, 1987). Also, the Franciscan monks
of the Thirteenth Century addressed women as “the head of sin, a weapon of the devil, mother of guilt, corruption of the ancient” (Tavris and Offir, 1977). In New Zealand, there is the general belief among the Maoris that when a woman “enters the area in which a sacred boat is being built, the sea worthiness of the boat is affected and it cannot be launched. The presence of a profane being serves to remove the divine blessing” (Caillois, 1959). Several of such ill- perceptions of women abound in most cultures. Some of the reasons usually advanced are hinged on the desire of men to dominate women; as a result, antisocial labels are heaped on them. The other reason is informed by the unclean aspect of women imposed by nature, like the menstrual cycle. On this count alone, women are forbidden from most religious rites, be it Traditional, Christianity or Islam.
The Ebira hold very strong view about this too. In their belief, potency of charms can be neutralised if a menstruating woman comes in contact with it. Sometimes, for certain ritual observances, one is strongly advised to avoid any carnal relationship with women no matter their state of purity. Many
of them are aware of these injunctions and also sometimes capitalise on them to taunt men, test their strength of character and ability to resist seductive advances in such sanctimonious state. Oftentimes, the weak will easily fall prey and get destroyed in the process. The Biblical story of Samson and Delilah is instructive here. All these make obvious, women’s evil essence and underline why they are feared and distanced from sacred matters.
However in some cultures, it has been established that women masking traditions exist. In Angola for instance, there are the Ganguela female masquerades (facekuerades) that don no masks. Their faces are sometimes painted but their identity is unconcealed. Some specie of female masquerades is also to be found in Kabompo district of Zambia (Guimoit, 1998). The Sande association masks offer a unique illustration of women as masked performers in Liberia and Sierra Leone by the Mende, Vai, Sherbro and Gola communities (d’Azevedo 1973; Jedrej 1976, 1986; Phillips 1978). In Nigeria, apart from some conventional female masquerades like the popular Gelede, the Bereke of Ijumu in Kogi state, Sagore and Ilebi female masquerades of Oyo town in Oyo state, a somewhat masking ambivalence occurs in some cultures where female gender denies men access to their masquerade performances. Bettelheim (49) records that among the Ejagham of Cross River State, masquerade is not only about masking but there are also unmasked mystic powers that are equally potent as masked essence. The women of the Ekpa-Atu association in the area “use their nakedness” to “affect male potency in the same way that men’s masquerade can affect women’s fertility.” This rear phenomenon occurs in the threatening naked dance in the night in which anonymity does not depend on the wearing of mask. Relying on oral account by Atabo Oko, Amali (59) writes that
"from the Yoruba Iludun-Ekiti of Ondo State comes
the strange report of an existing women’s sacred
society which is not seen by men. When they
appear at night for performance, men run into
hiding…behind their doors throughout the night."
From the different submissions cited above it is observed that most women masquerades lack serious spiritual depth. The import is more social than spiritual, while they perform mostly without a mask, the key essence of masquerade art. They are therefore more of facekuerads in features than masquerades. In modern times, women are beginning to pick information here and there on the secrets of masquerading without being participants. Nevertheless, men cannot boast of a fair knowledge of witchcraft, which is still the edge they have over men till today. Even though Osadebe (109), using the Igbo masquerade art as a reference point, has remarked that:
"Since the women understand the basic
background of the mmanwu, what was truly
guarded, or rather upheld, was the women’s lack
of the right to publicly discuss the mmanwu."
But in Ebira society, it is not just the public right of discussion that is withdrawn, also the right to conscious quest for knowledge. The mysticism surrounding the Eku (masquerade) cult is still intact, for previous attempts to neutralise it have always met with stiff mystic and physical opposition from custodians and a cross-section of Ebira people who believe strongly in the inviolability of such cultural practices.
According to oral and several written accounts (which are also sourced from orality), Obaji and Ododo, sons of Itaazi, were said to be the progenitors of Eku. These were two brothers who constantly antagonised each other on account of seniority contestation. But seniority was generally conceded to Obaji, and Ododo was not pleased. One day, Obaji took ill and was about to die. His brother, Ododo, said he would not like Obaji to be his senior here on earth and again be his senior in the great beyond (Idaneku). Ododo then decided to change his identity with his dying brother. When Obaji died, Ododo put on the costumes of Eku and the women were made to believe that Ododo rose from the dead. So, Obaji became the senior of the living, while Ododo became the senior of the dead in the world beyond. Adega, a prophesying masquerade character who specialises in the chants of historical events, myths and legends, gave a similar account in his 1983 annual Echane festival performance:
"Ozi Ododo vana si ozi Obaji dosi mo nyi ehi ni
Ijo ozi Obaji vaso ka yo ozi Ododo
Ka ani ewun ma ze ada anini
Do ozi Ododo va se so ka ine hi ni
Do Ododo ka Obaji ana vo zoku yoni ehononi
Dore vana ve ozoku idaneku yo ni
Di Ododo wusu ni
Da hure Eku ni
Ihe gwo eta ani do Obaji oni re wu suni (Adega,
Ododo’s son took Obaji’s daughter for a
When Obaji’s daughter told Ododo’s son of her
Ododo’s son went home to relay the information
Ododo in envy opined that Obaji who is his senior
in the human world
Will again be his senior in the world beyond
Therefore, Ododo passed on before Obaji.
His Children made Eku out of him.
The third day, Obaji also passed on…
Another account holds it that Ododo did not actually commit suicide but that he actually donned the masquerade costumes at his supposed funeral, as he was never publicly interred. But we are not told how the mask character was later reconciled with Ododo’s living identity. However, in a very recent
study, Ibrahim (10) explains that
"The main event behind the story was the crowning
of their foundation of Ebiraland with their title
taking and installation as priest-king and high
priest of Ebira Ancestral Temple.
The system of king-making in Ebira land of olden days
"included establishing the ancestral temple as
point of contact with the ancestor and from
where the eku-oba (ancestor incarnate
masquerade) would emerge; symbolically passing
through the various stages of ‘dying’ rounded
up with the preparation of eku-oba and then
eku-echichi, a ceremony for sending off departing
elder’s spirit to its new abode, or for escorting
visiting ancestral spirits back to their world. …once
the funeral ceremonies and outing of the
masquerade had been performed, that was the
end of the public appearance for the priest-king
or person concerned; these ceremonies would
not be performed again when he actually
(physically) passed away. The priest-king was
never reported as dying for the man had already
‘died’ before he became priest-king. (Ibrahim 10-
It is based on the above understanding that Ibrahim (10) reasons that it was when Obaji had already passed through some of the ‘death’ processes that Ododo became aware and because he was averred to Obaji becoming his senior in the world beyond, Ododo “by passed some of the processes straight to ‘death’ and outing of masquerade to personate his spirit”.
All other accounts slightly vary from the ones recounted above but they provide scanty information that leave them raising more critical questions than they were meant to resolve. An attempt to answer one question raises another. Adinoyi- Ojo (66) for instance queried that, if Ododo and Obaji were
brothers, “the disagreement over age should not have arisen in the first case.” This position is plausible if they are brothers from the same mother, but Adinoyi-Ojo fails to consider the possibility of their being half- brothers with different maternity, a condition that can account for their delivery on the same day at very clinically short intervals. Ajanah (10) actually dates the origin account, putting it at 1730 assertively without any source.
This coming from a young man in 1990 without a credible source raises serious doubt on the authenticity of such claims. The inference one can draw from these numerous traditions of origin is that because the original oral source is far removed from the present age, the account has been retold several times and passed through numerous hands to the extent that it has lost so much details and acquired new ones to remain alive. So, variants of this account are probably as much as the number of talebearers and writers on the Eku origin because the focus of everyone seems to be the desire to be
different and not necessarily to strive with some amount of empiricism to engender a fair degree of certainty on Eku origin. What is certain however is that Eku with its mysterious manifestations is located in the domain of the dead as masquerading motif. Ibrahim (15) earlier argued without empirical substantiation that
"Eku existed as an institution before Ododo and
Obaji but it was neither well organized nor
disciplined. Ododo and Obaji, brothers in ideas,
Probably on the strength of this submission, Adinoyi-Ojo (72) reconstructed what he calls “the eku’s path since the 15th century when Ebira were said to have left Wukari” through this way. Thus:
Before 1400 A.D Ebira and Igala exist as part of
the Jukun ethnic group, and participating actively
in the cultural life of the group, including the
Ebira and Igala progenitors leave their ancestral
home, Wukari, for Idah with acquired beliefs,
myths, cultural, and religious practices, including
the knowledge and practice of masking. As they
pass by and interact with groups along the route
from Wukari to Idah, they pick up some of the
cultural symbols and practices of these enroute-
groups while also leaving them with some aspects
of their culture. At Idah, where the Ebira and
Igala lived together for over 300 years, these
cultural practices and symbols are remoulded to
address the realities of their new environment.
Ohimi leads his people out of the Igala kingdom
arriving at Opete with a culture that has elements
of the cultures of the Jukun, of groups along
Wukari-Idah route, of Igala-Ebira at Idah, and
of societies along their Idah-Opete route. Again
at Opete, this culture is further repackaged to
suit the prevailing circumstances and to meet
the demands of the new environment.
A group of Ebira people leave Opete, cross the
confluence, and settle north-east of the
confluence region at Igu and Panda, bringing with
them a culture that is a composite of their
experiences and those of their ancestors since
leaving Wukari in 1400. This culture, including
eku, is later reshaped and tailored to the needs
of the new surrounding.
From this reconstruction, Ododo and Obaji are clearly omitted but he proceeded in the later pages of his work to itemize what he considers to be the reforms instituted by Ododo and Obaji as earlier contended by Ibrahim (1976). Picton (184) ascribes part of these reforms to Itemireje. This claim
however ran into crisis of historical validation as Picton himself sincerely admitted:
The night festival clearly has an antiquity within
Ebira tradition that is impossible to determine;
and the night singers are the focus of attention,
or at any rate they are nowadays. However, it
was generally acknowledged that the first person
to gather people together and sing during this
festival was someone by the name of Itemireje.
He did not invent the festival. But he did invent
the role of singing eku as part of it…Then, to my
surprise, I found that some old men remembered
the performances of Itemireje, and how they
differed in style from those of today. That put
the invention of this kind of entertainment to
within the past hundred years, but I gave up
testing this discovery on people – its logic was
always flatly denied: they had always done it; it
was what they came to meet their fathers doing,
and so forth. (184)
This approach of looking at the origin of Eku is dangerous for the historical reality of the masquerade concept and the people. Caution needs to be exercised in matters like this; otherwise vital aspects of a people’s collective history may be inadvertently wished away. Ibrahim himself could not be categorical on what Eku looked like and the reforms the two “brothers in ideas” brought to bear on it. If they actually reformed the Eku performance art, what evidence exists for locating the starting point of this reform at Opete as Adinoyo-Ojo has reconstructed, and not at Bira where Sa’ad Abubakar
through recent researches has maintained that Ebira at this period were a distinct group in terms of language and group formation even though they shared common boundaries with the Jukuns, as already posited earlier in this chapter. Obayemi’s (163) affirmation that “in the area of ancestor personification, the Igbirra (Ebira) have certain pre-eminence as founders of a cycle” of masquerades (eku), could also be a suggestion that as founders, other nationalities from the Jukun down to the
confluence region copied the masquerade art form from the Ebira. While not denying the dynamism of cultural interactions with attendant influence, it is not likely that the founder of an idea would undertake an elaborate process of reorganisation on the same concept. Cultural reorganisation is a gradual process that does not occur in one fell swoop.
Adinoyi-Ojo himself has even detailed out so much changes that has visited and affected the features and structure of Eku performance within the last forty years. It is not conceivable that these new reforms are in tune with what Ododo and Obaji reorganised. It is therefore presumptuous to ascribe the reorganisational responsibility of an important phenomenon as Eku that coordinates the people’s way of life to two individuals.
Many factors bordering on intercultural relations, environmental reality and changing social norms come to crucial play in a matter of cultural reorganisation. It evolves over time with cumulative transformational additives from an original point. Therefore, the issue of progenitor cannot be wished away. If the supernatural powers accorded Eku phenomenon as manifested in various masquerade characters is anything to go by, then their proclamations should not be doubted. If this position is sustained, the declaration of Adega (1983), and indeed many other oral sources, that Ododo and Obaji are the forerunners of Eku should not be questioned any further.
Whatever argument we may want to raise, it would not be fair to rob these two “brothers” their positions in history, for they may possibly have started the Eku from the beginning of time at Ebira. In fact, Ahmadu (61) is categorical that “Ododo was the originator of “eku” cult in Ebiraland.” We should always be reminded that “living with unresolved questions is part of life; forcing an answer to a question, for the sake of an answer, on the basis of inadequate evidence feels dishonest and lacking in integrity” (Burnell 25). What remains constant however is the continued association of Ododo and Obaji with the Eku phenomenon either as progenitors or reformers, and the fact that among other things, it was primarily instituted as a counterforce to witchcraft, the secret and terrifying domain of
The Iconography of Ekuechi Performance
The key icon in most masquerade performances is the mask, but this is absent in Ekuechi performance. Paradoxically, it is the mnemonic (extra-terrestrial) value of the mask that contextualises and defines Ekuechi. The actual absence and the virtual presence of the mask in Ekuechi is what Picton (183) describes as a redefinition occasioned by “common knowledge about events and performers”. Another point to note is the absence of another vital icon in Ekuechi celebration – women. The important space women occupy in Ebira cosmology has been established in this paper. They are the repositories of Irakwo (witchcraft), an elemental equipoise to Eku (masquerade). They also weave Eku’s costume, clean the surroundings, household and the inner chamber in readiness to receive visiting ancestors; they prepare the feast with which the ancestors are hospitably received, yet their presence is negated by the absence of a mask. Picton (66 and 75) reasons that this ambivalence is designed to sustain the “trickery, even deceit and certainly play-acting” involved in Eku (masquerade) – “a matter of dramatic pretence” that establishes overt (male) pretence in response to covert (female) reality” (80). Picton’s the Eku phenomenon is not just a question of wilful suspension of disbelief for women but a force that commands unusual sensibility. The name alone can cause “stampede and create commotion”. Picton (88) conveys this sense when he suggests that “the powers of eku drive women indoors confining them physically and metaphysically”.
He concludes in another related context, that “evidently, whatever else eku might be, it is a word with the power to move people” (Picton 87). It gathers and disperses people, it flavours and frightens, it treats and threatens; on the whole, Eku galvanizes and dispels action.
Considered differently, women’s invisible participation is an assigned role in the performative design of Ekuechi. As in theatre practice, no one is expected to abrogate his/her role regardless of what he/she thinks of it. To abrogate one’s role is to tilt the balance of cosmic harmony. Nevertheless, the Ekuechi event fortifies itself against such abrogation and also has the mechanism of reconstructing itself for continuity of performance. For instance, when a woman violates her role by taking a wrong cue to appear on the performance arena, the chthonic realm reacts with death strike – either instant death of the body and soul or ‘death’ to the woman’s psychic system, disabling her from recounting what she has seen. In this instance, it is untenable to depend on “phantasy” and “deceit” in defining the role of women but “reality” and “faith”. However, what is compelling is the philosophy that hones the
understanding and acceptance of the women folk that Eku’rahu, and indeed other facekuerade characters are sacred. Women also know that their role do not include direct contact with these characters.
The critical question now is that, does the absence of the mask completely negate the presence of women? Our proposition is that, just as the ancestral essence finds expression in Eku’rahu’s performance in the absence of a major position can be regarded as argument of academic convenience
for dramatic appropriation and scholarly discourse; otherwise icon of the mask, so is the woman essence foregrounded in virtual reality. The fact that Eku’rahu must, of necessity, involve certain class of women in the performance design for spiritual support, praises them in his songs, and that at some difficult moments (when for instance an Eku’rahu may not find his voice again or loses stability as a result of evil attack from the spiritual network of other competing facekuerades) ‘women of means and divine sight’ are brought physically on stage under protective custody of the henchmen to resolve the crises, eloquently substantiate our claim of the presence of women at Ekuechi performance. Picton (1988:75) even records that “strong women are there only you don’t see them”.
Halima Abubakar from Ebira tribe, Kogi State, Nigeria
Mercy Johnson, from Ebira Okene tribe in Kogi State Nigeria